Democracy and Economic Disparity

According to the Oxfam study conducted in January, 2019, the top 1% of the richest people holds 51.53% of the national wealth in India. It is also interesting to note that this top 1% got richer by 39% last year, as against just 3% increase in wealth for the bottom half of the population. These trends pose several questions about human social constructs and their perceived aims and means.

The first question which people need to ask themselves as part of the society is what really the goals are. Whether it is an individual or a social group, it is quite easy to guess that the aim is to get rich, or richer. According to Knight Frank’s latest Wealth Report, the number of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWIs) or those with net assets of $30million or more, is expected to grow 39%, in India by 2023. India is expected to add 44 new billionaires in 5 years, taking its total to 163, thus leading the pack in South Asia.

This is, of course, regarded as an indicator of a strong economy. As a social group, however, the UHNWIs transgress boundaries in their aims and means. They have set their sights on the long-term goals. The Knight Frank Report also mentions that these UNHWIs are expected to cut their cash exposure and increase their allocation to private equity in 2019, as their investment strategies become more sophisticated. It means that the only interest is the self-interest, making the rich richer.

The bottom half of the population wants things to be different. However, in what way? It is every individual in the lower rung of the hierarchy who somehow wants to move towards the upper rung of the hierarchy. Existential questions bother everybody. Are wealth and wellness, in any way, wrong to aspire for? The spirit of the Constitution is the only thing that one has to remember during these times. “As much for you, as for me”, says the Constitution of India.

Is this the true spirit of democracy? Historically speaking, feudal societies crumbled, royalties and Princely states were abolished because of the reason that the privileged used to control and hold resources that ideally belonged to everyone. So, in order to do away with this idea of wealth and control lying in the hands of the few, a participatory governance system called democracy was put in place. The storming of Marie Antoinette’s palace by a hungry and exploited French mob symbolizes the reasons for breakdown of the system of “a few filthy Rich governing the filthy poor”.

However, the system has come full circle. Ostensibly, we all govern ourselves. The poorest of the poor goes to vote. However, voting alone is not democracy. People are constantly voting in oligarchies that hold the key to all the wealth of the country. These are the people who can afford to fight and win elections. Wealthy people sponsor and engage in such pacts with these candidates, who are the elected in order to work towards making the wealthy, wealthier. This makes a normal, non-wealthy individual delusional of being protected by these wealthy representatives. They therefore, may just believe that they live in a democratic country, without realizing the fact that this ‘pact’ between the rich and the politicians forces the ordinary citizen entirely out of the governance. It is therefore never really a democracy.

One can also argue that maybe the definition of democracy has probably changed in the current scenario, which focuses on the need to receive information continuously about ‘the pact’. Democracy has now transformed into the right to be made aware at all times, through robust journalism and social media, of the wealthy sections in order to choose the representatives. Democracy also currently functions as the right to choose among the available oligarchies.

Where is justice? It is believed that democracy hinges on 3 foundations– the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. In a country like India, where the former two legs are plagued by the pact, the common man looks up to the third leg, the Judiciary. If there is anything that could truly be called the soul of the Constitution, it is the voice of the Judiciary. When the futile race to acquire large amounts of wealth occurs, and becomes a social malady, the Judiciary steps in as a body of remedy and justice.

Democracy has evolved in a fascinating way. The very disparity that challenges and plagues democracy has also created able individuals that are resourceful enough to read between the lines of the Constitution and mete out justice. This disparity has given us the privilege to step out of the pact and hold a mirror to ourselves and the society and strengthen the three building blocks of democracy.

Picture Courtesy- Economic Times


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